Two ex-soccer chiefs convicted in US bribery trial
Two former senior South American soccer executives have been found guilty of multiple corruption charges in a US trial that has followed an extensive investigation focusing on bribes alleged to have been paid to officials in the sport.
Jose Maria Marin, the ex-president of the CBF, the Brazilian football federation, and Juan Ángel Napout, the Paraguayan who previously headed up Conmebol, the South American confederation, were convicted in a court in Brooklyn in New York on 22 December.
The 85-year-old Marin was found guilty of six of seven charges, including money laundering and wire fraud conspiracy, while the 59-year-old Napout was found guilty of three of five charges, including one of racketeering conspiracy and two of wire fraud conspiracy.
On 26 December, Manuel Burga, the 60-year-old former president of the FPF, the Peruvian football federation, and the third accused, was acquitted of a charge of racketeering.
The trio were arrested in 2015 having been implicated by the US Department of Justice in a wide-ranging probe that centred on schemes in which at least $150 million in bribes and kickbacks concerning media and marketing rights to soccer across the Americas were alleged to have been paid to officials with links to Fifa.
The rights covered top South American competitions such as the Copa America and Copa Libertadores, while Marin was also accused of taking bribes for rights to the Copa do Brasil.
In a statement on Friday, Fifa said it “strongly supports and encourages the US authorities’ efforts to hold accountable those individuals who abused their positions and corrupted international football for their own personal benefit.”
The governing body is seeking restitution as a result of financial losses sustained from corruption uncovered in the so-called Fifa-gate investigation.
In closing arguments at the end of the five-week trial, federal prosecutors claimed that between 2010 and 2016 Napout had received $10.5 million in bribes, Marin $6.55 million and Burga $4.4 million.
The three men all denied any wrongdoing, with their lawyers arguing that witnesses including Alejandro Burzaco, the former chief executive of Argentinian sports agency Torneos y Competencias, who has pleaded guilty to various offences, were co-operating with the authorities and shifting blame in order to secure reduced sentences.
Burzaco alleged that the trio had all accepted bribes, and also accused prominent media companies such as USA’s Fox Sports and Brazil’s Globo of being complicit. The two firms have steadfastly denied the allegations.
In the early stages of the trial, prosecutors claimed that Burga had sought to intimidate Burzaco by making throat-slitting gestures towards him although this was denied by the Peruvian official's lawyer who attributes the motions to a skin condition that had made his client's neck itch.
More than 40 soccer officials and corporate executives were indicted in the US investigation into corruption in international soccer, which came to light with the arrests of seven Fifa representatives in a dramatic dawn raid on a hotel in Zurich in May 2015, ahead of that year’s Fifa Congress. Prosecutors have so far secured 23 guilty pleas.
In October, Hector Trujillo, the former secretary general of the Guatemalan Football Federation, was the first person to be sentenced, being sent to prison for eight months after pleading guilty to wire fraud and conspiracy.
At the end of the same month, Costas Takkas, the former secretary general of the Cayman Islands Football Association, was sentenced to 15 months in prison after admitting involvement in a money-laundering conspiracy.